Halloween Madness at Momofuku Ko – NYC
I wish I could share some photos of the gorgeous dishes prepared by the chefs at Momofuku Ko, but as you know, David Chang has banned all photography at Ko. Alas, all I have is a photo of this door, and from the looks of it online, it’s becoming the most famous door in America since Jim Morrison. However, before the ban, several bloggers posted their pics, so google away, or just look here or here. So in this post, instead of relying on photos, I’ll do my best to describe my meal at Momofuku Ko with the power of WORDS. Yes, I’ll be getting down and dirty with the alphabet.
Reservations at Ko are hard to come by to say the least, even Bruni went “Ko-Ko” trying to get reservations. So when I finally snagged reservations, I was initially dumbfounded, until I realized the reservations were for Halloween. I considered canceling for a brief moment, but then I thought, ‘Eh, we’ll go out afterwards, no biggie.’ As I write this though, let me tell you, we just came back from Ko, and David is now passed out in the bedroom and I am lazily lounging on the couch while our Halloween costumes remain safely sealed, each in their original package. So how did we come to this predicament? It began with an amuse bouche…
We started off with Chicharrón with Togarashi, Cod Fritter with Olive Paste, and Biscuits with Black Pepper and Mirin. Out of the three, I liked the biscuits the best. The sweet mirin gently lingered in the background as the black pepper dominated boldly in the foreground. Soft and flakey, the only thing missing was a more pronounced butter flavor, which to me is what a biscuit is all about. The Cod Fritter was good, but was needing some acid and could have been served hotter. The Chicharrón was basically a fancier, milder version of hot pork rinds minus the processed chemicals but also minus the satisfying crunch.
Next was the Fluke Sashimi with Poppy Seeds in a Buttermilk Sauce. David loved this dish. He thought the fresh fish was complimented by the nuttiness of the poppy seeds. I found the dish a little too salty and had to wipe some sauce off before eating the fish. Also, I didn’t like heavy use of the poppy seeds. Although pretty to look at against the white of the fish and the sauce, it was overwhelming and tasted a bit raw to me. I kept wishing the poppy seeds were toasted like on a nice toasted bagel.
The Lamb Belly in Daikon Soup, however, vanquished all doubts I had about Ko. Deliciously fatty in a simple pureed daikon soup, the dish was a nice play on heavy and light. I ate my lamb belly in record speed and then finished off David’s. Later that night when I saw a row of little lamb slices waiting to be plated behind the counter, I had an overpowering desire to grab the baking sheet and gobble them all up. The lamb was that good.
Next was a beautifully poached Chicken Egg with American Hackleback Caviar over Soubise with a dash of Sweet Potato Vinegar, and Fingerling Potato Chips. This dish was beautifully plated in a cute and playful manner. The egg was cut so it looked like Pac Man ready to chomp down on the caviar like black pac-dots. The tiny crunchy fingerling potato chips were also very fun. I loved this dish in its whimsy and simplicity. David, however, claimed the sweet potato vinegar’s bitterness ruined the dish for him. Perhaps his had more than mine, but I hardly noticed it in the creaminess of the egg yolk and the soubise.
Monk Fish and Californian Sea Urchin Stew was another great dish. As I watched them make this dish, I noticed them smashing some of the uni into the broth. As a result, the entire dish, including the monk fish, was redolent with the creaminess of the sea urchin. David thought the dish was too heavy, so I happily ate his monk fish and sea urchin.
The following course was Hand-Torn Pasta in a Mushroom Broth with Sliced Matsutaki and Pine Needle Oil garnished with Toasted Pine Nuts. Eating this dish made me feel like I was deep in the middle of a forest in Michigan, which as those who know me, is not a good thing. The pine needle oil was excessively intense, and ever bite made me feel like I was chewing on pine needles. In addition, the mushrooms, the mushroom broth, and the pine nuts added to the extreme earthy experience. David who grew up partly in Michigan, however, loved this dish saying every ingredient meshed well with each other. After a few more bites, I surrendered my bowl to David, who eagerly slurped up every last bite.
After the mushroom pasta course, my brain finally started registering all the food that was in my belly. I felt incredibly full and hot. I felt the heat from the steaming pots, pans, and blazing oven bearing down on me. I felt suddenly claustrophobic. As sweat beaded up on my brow, I even wondered if I had been drugged. I’m not sure why I had this fierce feeling of madness at Ko. It may have been the heat and the overabundance of rich and decadent foods, or I may just be crazy. In any case, after a few more confusing moments, my episode subsided and I decided to plow full-speed ahead. I was on a mission to eat all nine courses.
The sixth course of Grated Foie Gras over Sliced Lychees, Riesling Gelée, and Hazelnut Brittle was a wonderful balance of textures. The grated foie gras melted like heavenly soft snow on your tongue, the cold fresh lychees were tender with an initial firm snap, the Riesling gelée was pleasantly gelatinous, and the sweet hazelnut brittle added a welcome caramelized crunch. David who doesn’t like liver finished his bowl and my leftovers (I was on a mission but not a suicide mission).
The final savory dish was Roasted Venison with Huckleberry Reduction and Fresh Huckleberries, Celery Root Foam, and Shaved Brussels Sprouts. The venison was cooked medium-rare and tasted only mildly gamey. The accompanying reduction was a smokey coffee-like concoction that held up nicely to the hearty meat. As for the celery root foam, I found it didn’t really offer anything to the overall plate except perhaps the “coolness” of foam. The raw shaved brussels sprouts I assumed were there to provide some fresh vegetal matter, but I would have preferred fried or roasted brussels sprouts.
The first dessert course was a Arnold Palmer Sorbet Quenelle with Mint Julep Crumbles. Delightfully refreshing after a heavy meat course, I enjoyed this abundantly. For me it was also very nostalgic as I have fond memories of making shaved ice flavored with Lipton Ice Tea Mix as a child. The mint julep crumbles were tasty enough but I liked the sorbet better without it.
The final dish of the night was a beautiful plate composed of a Pretzel Ice Cream Quenelle placed over Granny Smith Apple Syrup, and a dollop of Yogurt encircled by tiny orbs of Fried Amish Cheese. The pretzel ice cream tasted exactly like a salty New York pretzel and contrasted nicely with the sweet and tart apple syrup. As for the fried cheese, I loved the slightly crisp chewiness of each little bite. I believe the yogurt was there to act as a dip for the fried cheese, but the cheese was so good it didn’t need any accoutrements.
That night I left Momofuku Ko stuffed but feeling like I accomplished a great feat. I’m not sure if I could do it again. Nine courses is a lot to eat in one night, especially when each plate is as sumptuous as it is at Ko. So at the end of this post I’d like to make an open plea to David Chang, “I love Momofuku Ko, but can you please start offering a six-course tasting menu? Another nine-course meal may be the end of me.”
163 First Ave (btwn 10th & 11th St)
NY, NY 10003